In some mild cases of aphasia, people may recover their language ability without the need for treatment. However, in most cases, individuals require speech and language therapy. This type of therapy is most effective when started as early as possible after the condition is diagnosed.
Speech and language therapy aims to:
- Improve the patient’s communication skills as much as possible
- Help the patient develop alternative methods of communication or ways to supplement communication
If started early, speech and language therapy can sometimes lead to improvement within six months. However, it is also possible for patients to experience improvement years after they first developed the condition. Speech and language therapy sessions may be delivered as an intensive course of long sessions or as short and frequent sessions over a longer period.
Before therapy is begun, the patient’s speech, language and social skills are assessed to ascertain the areas of language the patient is having the most difficulty with. The therapist assesses the patient’s communication skills firstly by talking to them and their family members and, secondly, through a formal assessment to try and pin-point the areas that should be targeted in therapy sessions. Any other health problems that could impair communication such as hearing or visual disturbances are also taken into account.
For patients who have difficulty understanding words, therapy includes exercises such as matching words to pictures or classifying words according to their meaning. People who have difficulty expressing themselves may practice naming pictures, choosing words that rhyme or repeating words the therapist pronounces.
Therapy sessions may involve the use of a computer or they may be carried out in group sessions alongside family members or other people with the condition. In group therapy, patients may work on their conversational skills or practice making a telephone call, for example.
Research is currently being carried out to investigate the use of certain medications in speech therapy and examples of drug candidates include piracetam, bifemelane, bromocriptine, idebenone and piribedil. A technique called transcranial magnetic stimulation which involves the use of electrical currents to stimulate the brain, is also being studied. Treatment may also involve the management of any depression or anxiety the patient may be experiencing as a result of their condition.
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc